Did the Central Districts Stags bat poorly or did the Auckland Aces bowl out of their skin to come up trumps by four wickets?
Everything suggested the Eden Park outer oval was a benign batting wicket but the Tom Bruce-captained Stags paid the price for a bearish total of 8-138 in their allotted 20 overs of the Super Smash match on Saturday.
The drop-in wicket from the adjacent main arena had all the makings of a pelter — a tennis-ball bounce and carry, not too dissimilar to the one at McLean Park, Napier, on Thursday night when they had beaten table toppers Otago Volts by five wickets in chasing down the total.
• Cricket: Former Australian cricketer Mark Waugh has unfortunate slip of tongue in commentary during Black Caps test
• Live cricket updates: Black Caps v Australia, third test, day two at the Sydney Cricket Ground
• Cricket: Black Caps show spirit on day two of third test against Australia at SCG
• Cricket: Six takeaways from day two of the third test between the Black Caps and Australia at the SCG
Frankly, running into the up to 58km/h gusts or not, the Aldin Smith-coached CD men needed a minor miracle to protect the modest target and, to their credit, they came quite close to it before game changer Roneel Hira bludgeoned consecutive boundaries with three balls to spare to eclipse the total with 6-141, as Auckland leapfrogged the Stags to third place on the table.
"My score didn't really matter too much because there were a lot of chip-ins in the game but no one really got going for us, unfortunately, which is what cost us a bigger total," said Christian Leopard who top scored for the visitors with 27 at first drop before falling victim to Mark Chapman, caught Ross ter Braak, after Auckland skipper Craig Cachopa won the toss and had them padding up.
Left-hander George Worker had a promising start off Ter Braak — who had replaced Kyle Jamieson on Black Caps duty in Sydney — but looked shaky against opener Ben Lister before offering another left-armer, veteran Mitchell McClenaghan, a thickish edge for 19 runs to contribute to wicketkeeper Ben Horne's milestone four catches for an Aces glove man in the T20 competition.
Opener/wicketkeeper Dane Cleaver (15 runs), Kieran Noema-Barnett (21), Joshua Clarkson (18) and Willem Ludick (19) were the batsmen Leopard had alluded to.
It didn't help that Bruce, coming in after Cleaver's stumping, tried to muscle Hira off his first delivery only to find Martin Guptill at deep long off before Leopard denied the former left-arm international spinner a hattrick.
The entire lefties' bowling attack of Hira (2-25), Lister (2-26), McClenaghan (2-30) and Chapman (2-17) caused havoc, receiving plaudits from Leopard for keeping them in check.
"We communicated to the batters who were coming in but it was just one of those days when we lost wickets at crucial times ... so we just could not get partnerships going," said the Innovate Electrical Napier Technical Old Boys cricketer.
Leopard also saluted the Stags bowlers for coming close to doing the unthinkable but they weren't able to emulate the feat of the CD Hinds women who had protected a modest total with passages of commendable collective fielding.
No 4 Cachopa spearheaded the chase with 36 runs from 32 balls with white-ball internationals Corey Anderson (29 from 26 balls) and opener Martin Guptill (22/18) backing up as the Aces re-ignited their quest to make the eliminator final.
Left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel again showed why he should have been in the Australia test series as he snaffled 2-20 to share the frugality stakes with opening seamer Ben Wheeler (1-20). Aces spinner Will Somerville became the beneficiary to replace Mitchell Santner in the third test under way. Chapman became Patel's 50th scalp for CD in T20s.
Worker, playing his 100th T20 domestic match, also rolled his arm to claim 1-18 from three overs at six runs an over. Wired up for commentary, he revealed he had worked with former Black Cap Dipak Patel in his quest to make the impending ICC Twenty20 World Cup to be staged in Australia from October 18 to November 15 this year.
Newbie Ryan Watson took 2-19 from 2.3 overs with his medium pacers but Black Caps opening seamer Blair Tickner had a game to forget as he took some stick (0-40 from three overs), especially from a goodish length. Tickner also was unlucky at times but you come to expect that at venues concocted to manufacture fours and sixes from flukish edges.
Noema-Barnett got 0-18 from three overs but perhaps Bruce should have introduced him earlier and kept Patel for death bowling.
Defending champions CD have to put the loss behind them to face the Canterbury Kings from 7pm at Hagley Oval, Lincoln, near Christchurch, on Tuesday.
They will also have to beat the Volts at the University of Otago Oval in Dunedin in their televised, final round-robin match on Saturday, January 11.
"Coming into this game we needed two out of three wins so that'll be down to two out of two now," said Leopard, believing it would be business as usual regardless of the demands of eking out wins on the road.
He cast his mind back to two summers ago when the Stags needed four victories on the trot and did that to make it to the grand final.
"We'll definitely be backing ourselves to do that," he said.